History from Here: Richard Pierpoint at Centennial Gardens

We are so pleased to introduce the newest virtual series presented by the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre: History From Here! We’ll take you to a different historic landmark in St. Catharines each month and offer a brief history of its significance to our community.

In honour of Black History Month, our inaugural History From Here episode highlights the contributions of Richard Pierpoint and his connection to Centennial Gardens. Watch below:

History from Here

Richard Pierpoint

Forced into slavery as a young man, a solider in the American War of Independence, vital to the formation of the first all-Black military unit in the area, Richard Pierpoint is a symbol of fortitude, perseverance, and survival.

I am standing in Centennial Gardens in St. Catharines, Ontario to bring you History from Here, a video series presented by the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.

Illustration of Richard Pierpoint. Artwork by Malcolm Jones, courtnesy of the Canadian War Museum.

This was once the land of Richard Pierpoint. Born in present day Senegal around 1744, Richard Pierpoint was captured at the age of 16 and forced into slavery. He was the servant slave of a British officer, and gained his freedom after enlisting with the British during the American Revolution. Pierpoint served with the Butler’s Rangers, and after his discharge, was given a significant chunk of farmland between Geneva Street and Oakdale Avenue. This is where I am standing now.

The route of Dick’s Creek, feeding the Welland Canal, can be seen in this 1879 map of St. Catharines. Courtesy of Brock University.

Through his farm ran a stream that flowed into Twelve Mile Creek. This came to be known as Dick’s Creek, named after Richard of course. While Pierpoint sold the farm in 1806, the name of the stream stuck. It later became part of the first Welland Canal, connecting the shipping transit way from the base of the escarpment to Twelve Mile Creek. It’s water also became an important power source for many mills along the canal.

Pierpoint’s story does not end at Dick’s Creek. Nearing the age of 70, he fought in the War of 1812 and was instrumental in the creation of the first all-Black military unit, known as the “Coloured Corps”. He had actually petitioned this idea the start of the war, but was first denied. It was only after Major-General Sir Isaac Brock was desperate for troops, that he assigned a white officer to form the militia Pierpoint had suggested – enlisting black settlers in Niagara.

In the years following the War of 1812, Pierpoint, self-described as “old and without property” petitioned the government to be allowed to return to his native Africa. His request however, was denied. Instead, he was granted land in Garafraxa Township along with other veterans of the Coloured Corps.

As for Dick’s Creek, its industrial importance declined in the 1880s after a new route was dug for Third Welland Canal. Much of the creek was filled for new road construction in the 1950s, and later for the new Highway 406 in the 1960s. Still, a small channel remains and its valley forms part of the Canal Valley park system today.

Aerial view of downtown St. Catharines and the future route of Highway 406 in 1962. The major road to the left is St. Paul Street going east. Here, the old Welland Canal is being filled for highway construction. The remains of Dick’s Creek can be viewed at the top right. STCM S1962.18.26.2

Stay tuned for a new History from Here episode each month.

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